Lack of UNRWA Funding Exacerbates Housing Crisis for Palestine Refugees Displaced from Yarmouk

30 June 2018

An UNRWA convoy has reached the Damascus suburb of Yalda to distribute crucial humanitarian assistance, including food, blankets and mattresses to 3000 Palestine refugees and vulnerable Syrians displaced from Yarmouk. Formerly home to 160,000 Palestine refugees and a symbol for the Palestine refugee community in Syria, the Yarmouk camp has been largely destroyed by recent violence. Many fled with nothing but the clothes on their back when intense fighting broke out in April and moved into empty apartments.

“A particular concern are the Palestine refugees who found temporary shelter in previously abandoned homes in Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem (YBB), which they are now being asked to leave. As residents have started to return to these abandoned homes, between 1500 and 1700 Palestine refugee families have been asked to pay rent or move elsewhere, ” said Michael-Ebye Amanya, Deputy Director of UNRWA Affairs in Syria. “Housing options are limited by the fact that most Palestine refugees from Yarmouk are currently not allowed to leave the area. They urgently need a solution to their shelter needs.”

“In the month since I left Yarmouk, I have had to move 6 times,” says Iman, a 48-year-old mother of two teenage girls. “My house in Yarmouk was completely destroyed; we have nothing. All the landlords in Yalda are asking for 25.000 SYP (USD 55) in rent, and we have to pay at least three months up front. This is money we do not have; our savings have been depleted over the last few years due to the conflict and there is no work available in Yalda. On top of that, UNRWA cash assistance is decreasing. I have no idea where we will go.”

Last month, UNRWA was forced to reduce its emergency cash assistance in Syria from USD 32 to USD 23 a month per person due to a lack of funding and now this amount is insufficient for displaced Palestine refugees to pay for their shelter needs. The Agency is facing an unprecedented financial crisis and a shortfall of USD 248 million for its operations across the region. The Emergency Appeal for Palestine refugees in Syria is less than 5% funded for 2018. 

“Cases like Iman’s show the impact a lack of funding has on ordinary people’s lives who are in desperate need of assistance. Unless UNRWA receives more funds, aid to more than 400,000 Palestine refugees across Syria, including food, healthcare and cash that allows refugees to cover their basic needs and shelter, is on the line.” Amanya added.

The UNRWA team distributed food parcels, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, mattresses, mats, blankets and jerry cans to 740 families, reaching 3000 individuals on 27 and 28 June. This is in addition to assistance provided to more than 5000 individuals earlier this month, when UNRWA was able to reach Yalda for the first time in two years.

The Agency is still waiting to be granted access to Yarmouk to assess the damage there, including to UNRWA schools and clinics.

Background Information: 

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals. UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

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